Top tips for spotting otters
There are thriving otter populations at a number of our places, but the elusive marine mammals are still notoriously difficult to spot in the wild. If you're looking to catch a glimpse of these special creatures, here are some expert tips for you to follow.
When is the best time to see otters?
With numbers on the rise, the chances of spotting an otter have never been better. They’re nocturnal creatures and are rarely seen during the day, so you’re most likely to catch a sight of one at dusk and dawn when they come out to feed.
Otters do occasionally come out during the day. To maximise your chances of spotting one, find a quiet stretch of river or lake where they're unlikely to be startled away.
Signs to watch out for
Otter territories can extend up to 40km along a stretch of water. They mark out these areas by leaving droppings, known as spraints, in strategic places such as underneath bridges, on top of grassy mounds on the bank, or on boulders in the middle of the stream. Otter spraint has a musty, jasmine smell.
If you don’t fancy sniffing droppings you can look out for tell-tale tracks instead, such as distinctive webbed toe prints in mud on the riverbank. Otters also create muddy slides down banks as places to play, and to provide easy access to the water, so keep an eye for these too.
Otters are carnivorous mammals with diets based mainly on fish, supplemented with crustaceans and waterbirds. They’re well-adapted to life on the water as they have dense fur to keep them warm and can close both their ears and nose when underwater.
Otters’ webbed feet are their best asset, as they can spread them wide and use them as a paddle when swimming. If they need to move faster – for example when hunting fish – they sway their whole body from side to side to propel themselves through the water. If you're beside a body of freshwater, keep a lookout for this distinctive movement.
There's something extra special about seeing otter cubs at play. Otters have no specific breeding season, although in Britain most have their cubs in spring. The mother carries her young for nine weeks before giving birth to two or three cubs. Otters are blind until four or five weeks old, but become excellent swimmers by the time they’re 10 weeks old.
Find out more about the best places where you can see otters in the wild, including Hampshire, Pembrokeshire and Cornwall.
Otters were on the brink of extinction in the UK in the 1960s, but a nationwide conservation effort has seen their numbers bounce back. Find out what our rangers and volunteers are doing to help.
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